My mom and her sister, Evelyn—aka Aunt Frankie—are the best cooks I know. They both have their specialties, but no matter what they prepare, it’s always good. My Aunt Frankie and her family (shout to my Uncle Kenny, aka Uncle Dad) lived across the street, and my sisters and I were always over there. And since Aunt Frankie was just as good a cook as my mom, we had options when it came to eating.
If my mom fixed something that I didn’t really care for, I’d run across the street to see what Aunt Frankie was cooking and make my decision accordingly. When I was in high school, I came home to the smell of beef and brown gravy. The house smelled amazing, but when I got to the kitchen and saw my mom, she was dredging a hunk of liver in flour. Liver and onions have never been at the top of my list, and I still don’t like the fact that it smells so good and tastes so questionable.
I backed out of the kitchen and headed to Aunt Frankie’s. When I walked into the house, again I was greeted with a pleasing aroma that lead me to the kitchen. My Uncle Kenny was standing at the stove instead of Aunt Frankie, and I knew whatever was in the oven had been running round in the woods earlier that day, and I wanted no part of it. Let’s just say that my Uncle Kenny was notorious for rustling up critters back in the day.
But no matter what was on the menu at my Aunt Frankie’s, she always had applesauce cake on the counter waiting to be devoured by a pack of greedy kids. The cake was more than something to eat, it was a constant. A reminded that no matter how tough things were, there was always a piece of applesauce cake at Aunt Frankie’s house to make things better.
Since I’m Aunt Frankie’s favorite niece, she was more than happy to share her recipe with me. My only modification was the addition of applejack to the batter. I couldn’t help myself. The bottle was just sitting on the shelf in my pantry calling to me, so why not. The apple liqueur is subtle, just enough to enhance the flavor of the homemade applesauce. I also topped the cake with a simple cream cheese icing instead of keeping it plain like Aunt Frankie used to do. Applesauce cake without icing is great way to serve the cake for breakfast.
Let me know when you make this recipe. Take a picture and hashtag it #QUEENCITYKITCHEN. I can’t wait to see what you post!
Aunt Frankie’s Applesauce Cake
Makes 12 servings
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup vegetable oil
1⅓ cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon applejack, optional
2 cups unsweetened applesauce (homemade or store-bought), recipe follows
8-ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan with baking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper cut to fit and spray the paper.
Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a large bowl.
Beat the oil and sugar in an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Mix in the vanilla and applejack, if using. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Mix in the applesauce. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour, mixing until well-blended, about 1 minute.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool the cake completely on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, make the icing. Beat the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar. Mix until combined. Add the vanilla. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Generously spread icing over the top of the cake. Reserve leftover icing for another use. Serve the cake from the pan.